Using AltspaceVR for collaboration in virtual reality

Improving communication and collaboration for staff and students between geographically dispersed locations is an important consideration for online teaching and learning. Video and web conferencing has traditionally been the most common method of linking people together via desktop computers, smart phones, tablets, telephones and IP-based H.323 systems using applications such as Zoom, Skype, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate.

However, for anyone keen to explore a deeper level of immersion for their next meeting, tutorial or social hangout, then look no further than AltspaceVR.

Altspace volcano group photo
Altspace volcano group photo

What is AltspaceVR?

AltspaceVR is a virtual 3D world that combines networked avatars, 3D spatial audio and an in-built web browser to provide immersive collaboration in virtual reality or a standard desktop computer.

Navigation in AltspaceVR is performed using keyboard and mouse controls alongside a point-and-click teleport system that helps reduce VR motion sickness. Head and hand tracking is possible using an Oculus Rift with a Leap Motion which helps make virtual discussions feel very similar to their real-world counterparts. Eye-tracking is also being tested. The users microphone is automatically connected when joining the meeting and is very easy to mute if required.

Pre-existing virtual rooms in AltspaceVR are available for private sessions along with others designed to host regular events such as movie nights, conference discussions and gaming sessions.

Use cases

In June 2015, a specially designed 3D environment was created for a volcanic lava lake exploration conducted by explorer Sam Cossman. This tour encapsulated everything that an immersive and memorable online learning experience should be and was an example of a fantastic educational session.

Altspace volcano selfie
Altspace volcano selfie

AltspaceVR can also used effectively for running virtual meetings or tutorials where the concept of the 'breakout space' is important. With its in-built spatial audio, it allows for groups of participants to separate off into different areas and have discussions without disrupting others due to noise overlap. Since this can happen all in the one virtual area, it mirrors what happens in real-world situations and makes participating in and running sessions very intuitive. Using headphones or a headset microphone is a must to avoid any audio feedback within the session. Although still officially in Open Beta, the AltspaceVR platform works well in both standard 2D and virtual reality, provided you've got your Oculus Rift set-up on a properly equipped PC desktop (see specs below).

Altspace specifications

  2D mode (minimum VR mode (minimum) VR mode (recommended)
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo (3 GHz) Intel Core 2 Duo (3 GHz) Intel Core i5-3470 (3.2 GHz)
AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (3.2 GHz) AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (3.2 GHz) AMD FX-6300 (3.5 GHz)
RAM 4 GB 4 GB 6 GB
Graphics 512 MB Direct X 9 compatible graphics Discrete GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 (1 GB) Discrete GPUs: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 (2 GB)
AMD Radeon HD 7770 (1 GB) AMD Radeon HD 7870 (2 GB)
Storage 1 GB available space 1 GB available space 1 GB available space

Tips on running virtual sessions

The rules of real world engagement apply just as much in the virtual world, whether it's in 3D virtual reality or a traditional telephone conference.

  • You need to make people feel welcome when they enter a session, especially first-time users
  • If there is any delay or technical issue in proceedings, let people know what is happening, don’t leave them wondering
  • Engage the audience with questions and encourage the participants to collaborate
  • Don’t just replicate a real life PowerPoint presentation inside of a virtual world, utilise the unique benefits of the space
  • Without anything actually happening in a virtual space or nobody socialising, there is no reason to be there

To experience AltspaceVR in virtual reality with the Oculus Rift contact Learning Environments for a demo or check it out in 2D on a standard computer by signing up here.